Monday, May 26, 2014

History of Rat Day

The tradition of Rat Day at Woman's College (now UNCG) began in the 1930s as part of the initiation process of the four campus literary societies. This annual one-day event typically took place during the month of October or November and was promoted as a fun time of getting to know one another.  In reality, it was a day of hazing. Freshman girls, who were called “Rats”, were required to dress in a particular fashion and perform various tasks dictated by the Sophomores who were known as “Cats.”

Freshman Rats bowing down to Sophmore Cats
Unfortunately for the Freshmen, they never knew what day would be Rat Day, and they were often surprised when they were woken up at 5:30 am and ordered to march outside.  The activities would last until the evening, concluding around 6pm with a large bonfire and celebratory party.  Some years, however, the day ended with “Rat Court” where nine Sophomore Cats were selected as “Judges” and ten Freshman Rats were put on a mock trial.  The farcical event included court lawyers, bailiffs, and other typical court proceedings. Inevitably most Freshmen were found guilty of their factitious crimes and ordered to sustain various “punishments.”

Some of the various fashion rules given throughout the history of Rat Days included:
  • Not being allowed to wear makeup
  • Having to wear paper bibs and paper ears all day to resemble a rat
  • Having your name or the word “RAT” written on your forehead in lipstick
  • Being required to wear one high heel and one flat heel
  • Stuffing a stocking with paper and using it as a tail
  • Drawing black whiskers on face and black nose

In addition to these ridiculous fashion requirements, the Freshman Rats were also given specific tasks to complete throughout the day, such as:
  • Cleaning the McIver statue with a toothbrush
  • Washing and giving pedicures to faculty dogs
  • Various housekeeping tasks like cleaning bathrooms, dorm rooms, and the dinning hall
  • Writing love letters to males they may or may not have known
  • Stopping automobiles to get autographs from the driver

Lastly, the sophomores instituted random rules that had to be followed throughout the day, including:
  • When requested to be road runners, each freshman had to act accordingly complete with sounds of "beep beep" and "zoom zoom"
  • Addressing all Sophomores as “Your Excellency Madam Cat”
  • Each Freshman must refer to herself as “it”
  • Upon the call of “Air Raid” by any Sophomore, each Freshman was to pull her pillow case over her head

Not everyone approved of Rat Day and throughout the years there were calls to abolish the “ridiculous, useless, infantile” activity.  In 1939, Dr. Ruth Collings, who was the Director of Health, wrote a letter to Chancellor Walter Clinton Jackson describing the stress and injuries occurred because of such antics.   In 1936, it was reported that one girl received a black eye and another girl broke her foot.  Fortunately for students today, Rat Day ended in the early 1970s.

No comments:

Post a Comment